In 2012, while preparing for the New York State bar exam and raising her son as a single mother, Yosara Trujillo’s stress levels were as high as the demands on her time. She envisioned a regular yoga practice to help balance her hectic life, but she had neither the time to travel from her Bronx home to Manhattan (where the closest yoga studios were located), nor the money for classes, child care and roundtrip subway fare.
That’s when Yosara’s entrepreneurial instincts—honed during childhood by observing her hardworking mother—kicked in.
In her mother’s office building, where Yosara had been offered an empty office space as a rent-free refuge to study for the bar exam, there was another small, empty room. Realizing that it was just large enough to hold a handful of people and their yoga mats, Yosara enlisted a yoga instructor who could charge a per-class fee; in exchange, Yosara would take classes, too.
Using the last $215 in her bank account to buy some fabric, Yosara created a calming mini-sanctuary and soon, the classes were filled with other Bronx-based professionals looking for yoga in the neighborhood.
From this simple-but-spot-on idea emerged Sweet Water Dance & Yoga.
Realizing that she had touched upon something both deeply needed and very much missing in the community, Yosara put together a basic business plan. When a friend offered financial backing to help launch it, Yosara found a large rental space in the neighborhood. This space became the home of Sweet Water Dance & Yoga, a holistic wellness hub with a range of fitness, dance, yoga, meditation and other classes for people of all ages and interests—and always for reasonable fees.
With Sweet Water, Yosara was able to fill a void in the South Bronx and create a first-of-its-kind space within the community to promote health and well-being. She also achieved one of her primary goals: to spend as much time as possible with her young son. But by taking this path, she also made tremendous sacrifices that have been part of her learning curve as a business owner and community leader.
“I’ve learned so much along the way,” she says, “but I wish I’d known some really key things earlier on, because life would have been so much easier.”
Among them, she continues, “I didn’t do really important things, like factor a salary for myself into my financial projections. For years, I didn’t take a penny from the business, nothing. There have been times when it’s been hard just to buy food for me and my son. It’s grueling, living like that when you don’t have to. So, the first thing is, make sure you pay yourself. If you don’t benefit from this thing that you’re pouring your heart and soul into, it’s both difficult and dangerous. It was a huge mistake and one that I will never, ever make again.”
“Another thing I learned was that you have to be willing to invest in your business, early on. Consider staffing costs so that you have help and don’t burn out,” explains Yosara. “Consider your public-facing essentials, too. In our case, for example, we have this amazing space in a great location, but we had next-to-no street-level presence, so we missed opportunities every time someone walked by. Fully consider what you need to launch in the best way possible. These are very necessary investments.”
Behind these issues is the leading cause of small business collapse: a lack of funding. While Yosara’s initial investor was a tremendous help, before long, building out the new space and other expenses quickly added up. Sweet Water was in debt and in danger, and Yosara didn’t yet qualify for a Small Business Administration (SBA) -backed loan.
Fortunately, as with so many of the serendipitous meetings that Yosara experienced as Sweet Water developed, an entrepreneur that she admires held a workshop about Excelsior Growth Fund (EGF).
From the moment she learned about EGF, Yosara knew it was exactly what she needed and that she’d be a great fit for EGF, too. Though Yosara did not qualify for a loan when she first came to EGF, the Business Advisory Services team worked with her over the course of six months to develop her financials and refine her business and operational plans.
Today, Yosara is proudly EGF’s first recipient of a loan from the South Bronx Entrepreneurs of Color Fund, a loan program made possible with support from JPMorgan Chase and designed to increase access to capital for the diverse businesses located in the South Bronx.
“I can’t begin to tell you how much of a difference this has made, how much better everything is—the business, my life, our future,” says Yosara, who borrowed $50,000. “We have a cash-flow cushion, we have financial breathing room. We can create new revenue opportunities, like offering retail items for sale, because we can build inventory.”
Yosara offers this advice for fellow entrepreneurs: “Ensure that you’ve budgeted appropriately and included key things—like a salary for yourself, an allocation for some staff and marketing dollars to help you grow and generate more income faster. Then, work with people, like the team at EGF, to get funding earlier on, or you’ll erode your well-being trying to make it work.”
“There’s so much value in the work that EGF does for small businesses, like helping people like me build ours in the South Bronx. It feels like a real partnership and I couldn’t be more appreciative,” says Yosara. She adds, “The process helps me better prepare for an SBA-backed loan down the line, too.”
Now, when Yosara envisions the future, it’s about things that will improve the business and generate more revenue, like adding two part-time staff, putting in new flooring, renovating the building façade and increasing the number of classes offered.
They’re all positive signs that Sweet Water’s turning the corner from surviving to thriving.